Poore Richard's Really Poore Almanack

Serious philosophical and theological essays & musings, updated infrequently.

Life and Death; Life in Death
Summer 2006

A pandemic will come, a virus that may kill as many as a third of us.  Look around in the street and count off every third person: dead.  Go to a family gathering or think of your friends; count off every third person.  Dead.  Look at yourself in the mirror – maybe the invisible number on your own forehead is a 3.  Maybe on mine, too.

It’s no news that any and all of us will most certainly die.  No one is dodging any bullets whether made of lead or cholesterol or insulin difficulties or cancers.  Or bacterium or viruses.

But a plague that can and will destroy one in three of us in a matter of hours or days, a third more than would usually die, that’s an unusual bullet.  It’s the equivalent of an atomic weapon or, better, nature’s own biological warfare agent.

No, I ‘m not making this up.  Paranoia, such as I admittedly exhibit once in a while, could have concocted this and, on a bad day, probably have come up with something to make the Apocalypse of St. John seem as tame as a Dixie Cup full of cherry Vacation Bible School Kool-Aid.

Unfortunately, what I’m talking about isn’t fiction.  It doesn’t take my imagination to make the inevitable pandemic sound like Hell on Earth.

After considering this awhile I found myself sitting around eating too much holiday candy and thinking, “So, what does it matter then if I stuff myself on this junk and ruin my health?”  I eat fatty meat, a lot of it, and don’t take my cholesterol medications.  I’ve been considering smoking again – why not?  When I look around my town square and see all the happy families beneath the stars and clear white Christmas lights, I see death, I see walking corpses.

We’re already dead.

But what does that mean?  Life must become cheaper? 

It’s already been cheapened to an unimaginable degree.  The United States of America, in the name of defending a Constitution that, in its very spirit and blood, hates all trappings of tyranny and abuse, is torturing enemy prisoners and kidnapping and holding people anonymously without a Writ of Habeas Corpus.  All because people in the States are terrified for their lives.  We love life to such a degree we’ve cheapened and devalued it; we honor our Constitution so much that we altered our laws to be unConstitutional in order to preserve the Constitution.

“He who loves his life will lose it… .”  Could it have been He wasn’t joking when He said this?

We’re already dead and nothing we can do changes that.  The harder we run from it, deny it, the more strenuously we rage against that dying light, the more full of death we are, the more devoid of humanity.  Like the rest of our existence, this is a paradox, perhaps the fundamental one.

Should I smoke?  Stop taking the cholesterol medicine?  Overeat?  Value nothing?  Be miserable at the sight of children and lovers happy for a moment in the midst of all this confusion?

Should I stop making art?  Stop writing?  Stop, lie down and be done – I’m already dead; should I just go ahead and die?

How many things have I lost in 41 years?  How many memories of things and people I loved are themselves lost except to the knowledge of the Almighty alone?  How much of my love and hope went up like fire and how many of my words were like trash thrown in the bonfire?

I’m already dead and my 41 empty years are a trail of ashes.

A plague will come and I will die.  And so may you.  Or another disease or a bomb or that literal lead slug will come to take us into that mystery called “whatever’s next.”  I am already dead, but do I die while I’m dead and perform the actions of the living dead, become a soulless monstrosity, or do I nevertheless go on living, dreaming, hoping, loving, creating?

Which is it – run or stay and face what can’t be escaped?  The first part of the Bushido Code was the command for the samurai to go ahead and understand he was already dead – not to surrender, but to abandon fear of loss and failure.  Nothing worse can befall a dead man; he should be impervious to all the terrors of the world.  There is something beautiful in the thought of making all our days a last stand and dying a good, worthy death each moment, being a person worthy of being remembered and honored.

There is something holy in caring and taking care when the entire universe militates against it and demands that you break and fall to your knees, surrendering to oblivion’s fist.

We’re already dead and it doesn’t matter.  It never mattered that we are all number 3 on the execution list.  What matters is that we decide to make our time here matter, that we decide to see and value the valuable.  The only “plague” that can destroy humanity is if we decide to become inhuman through fear and weakness. 

The failure to love what is most valuable within ourselves and others is the one pandemic that we must fear; for it is the kind that slays the soul.





Richard Van Ingram
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